THE LORD'S SUPPER
A Study By
Gary Ray Branscome
Our Lord Jesus
Christ, the same night in which He was betrayed, took bread and when He
had given thanks, He brake it and gave it to His disciples saying,
“Take eat this is My body which is given for you. This do in
remembrance of Me.”
After the same
manner, He took the cup when He had supped, and when He had given
thanks, He gave it to them saying, “Drink ye all of it; this cup is the
New Testament in My blood, which was shed for you for the remission of
sins. This do, as oft as ye drink it, in remembrance of Me.”
With those words,
Christ instituted “The Lord's Supper” as a perpetual observance of the
Christian Church. And, we can expect to see it observed wherever
Christians gather for worship. At the same time, His reason for
instituting that ceremony, and the purpose that He intended for it to
serve, is not deep and mysterious. On the contrary, it is simply a
constant reminder of the fact that we only have forgiveness because He
took our sins upon Himself and died in our place. [Matthew 26:26-28,
Mark 14:22-24, 1Corinthians 11:23-26, Luke 22:19-20.]
In order to clarify
what I mean, let us begin by looking at the words, “In remembrance of
Me” (1Corinthians 11:24,25). When Christ speaks of “remembrance,” He is
not talking about a shallow, superficial remembrance. He does not want
people to only say, “Oh yes I remember. Poor chap was sentenced to
death even though He was perfectly innocent. What an awful shame.” If
that was all anybody remembered as they partook of the Lord's supper,
it would be utterly worthless. Far from such superficial remembrance,
Christ wants us to remember what He plainly said, namely that His body
was “given for you” and that His blood was “shed for you for the
remission of sins”. In other words, what Christ wants us to remember is
the gospel message, the good news that He died on the cross and shed
His blood so that we might have forgiveness and eternal life. And,
Christ certainly does not want us to remember that fact without
believing it! He wants us to remember and BELIEVE that His body was
“given for us” and that His blood was “shed” for our forgiveness.
[Matthew 26:28, Mark 14:24, Luke 22:19-20, 1Corinthians 11:24.]
Once that is
understood, it becomes obvious that Christ intended for His supper to
serve as a ceremonial proclamation of the gospel. In other words,
whenever that ceremony is preformed according to Christ's instruction,
it reminds people that He died so that they could have forgiveness and
eternal life. And, because that message is the Word of God, we know
that it will accomplish the purpose that He intended for it to
In keeping with the
role that Christ intended for His supper to serve, He instituted it at
the time of Passover in order to make it clear that He is the true
Passover sacrifice (1Corinthians 5:7). In fact, the deliverance of
God’s people from physical bondage at the time of the first Passover,
was intended to point forward to the deliverance of His people from
spiritual bondage through the death of Christ (John 1:29). However,
unlike the Passover, Christ’s Supper gives every one of us His own
promise, that His body was given and His blood shed, for us, for the
remission of sins (Galatians 3:22).
Because of that
promise it is important not to contradict what Christ said when He
instituted His Supper, for those who contradict the Word of God make it
of none effect (Mark 7:13). Since Christ plainly said that the bread
was His “body,” and that the cup was His “blood” that is what He wants
us to believe and teach (1Corinthians 11:26-28). However, the fact that
He was physically present with His disciples when He made that
statement tells us that His words have a deeper meaning, and that
meaning should become clearer as we go.
First of all, the
words “as often as ye eat this bread,” tell us that what we eat when we
partake of the Lord’s Supper is “bread,” not flesh (1Corinthians
11:26-28). Therefore, when Christ instituted the Lord's Supper, He
never intended for us to conclude that we were eating physical flesh.
However, instead of contradicting Christ we need to understand that
there is another sense in which we can receive Christ’s body and blood,
namely by receiving it as the atonement for our sins.
In order to
understand that sense, we need to examine Christ’s discourse at
Capernaum (John 6:24,35-63). However, in reading that discourse it is
important to understand that He was not speaking of the Lord’s Supper,
for it had not even been instituted at that time (John 6:24,35-63).
Moreover the grammar is entirely different. In that discourse He
referred to His body as “bread” (which is a metaphor), yet in the
Lord's Supper He calls bread His “Body” (which is the opposite of a
metaphor). In fact, calling bread His “body,” is the equivalent of
saying, “that door is me” instead of saying “I am the door.” Since
there is no such figure of speech, such a statement must either be
true, or it is absurd. Nevertheless, even though the words that Christ
spoke at Capernaum were not about His Supper, those words do cast light
on what He later said about His Supper, because they equate faith in
His sacrifice with eating His body and blood (compare John 6:40 and
6:54). In other words, all who trust in Him, in effect, receive His
body and shed blood (His sacrifice) in the sense that they receive it
as the atonement for their sins. In that way, just as God's gift of
manna kept the children of Israel alive in the wilderness, the gift of
Christ's body and blood keeps us alive spiritually.
[Note: Since the ancient Rabbis
claimed that the Messiah would provide both water and manna, just as
Moses had done, the book of John shows Christ to be both the source of
living water and heavenly manna. (See Edersheim, volume 1, page 176.
John 4:10-14, John 6:35-63)]
Since the purpose
of the Lord’s Supper is to present each believer with Christ’s
unspeakable gift, those who do not believe that His body and blood were
“given” and “shed” for them, are unworthy to partake (1Corinthians
11:29). In other words, because God sees no fault in those who trust in
Christ, the only people who could be unworthy are those who are
unrepentant. However, we need to remember that those who trust in their
own righteousness are just as unrepentant as those who sin willfully,
and are more likely to assume that they are worthy (Luke 18:9-14). In
their blindness, they usually see little need for forgiveness and, for
that reason, fail to recognize Christ's sacrifice as the source of
their salvation (1Corinthians 11:29). Worse yet, because Christ’s body
and blood were presented to them as the atonement for their sin, and
they rejected God’s forgiveness by their unbelief, the guilt and
condemnation that Christ bore on the cross comes back upon them
(1Corinthians 11:27, Matthew 23:35, Luke 11:50). Bearing that guilt,
they are then chastened by God in the hope that they might humble their
heart, recognize their sin, and look to Christ for forgiveness
instituted His Supper He never intended for people to be pointed to the
ceremony itself, as if forgiveness was to be found in the ceremony
rather than in His sacrifice. Nor did He intend for us to regard His
supper as nothing more than a “memorial meal,” or to contradict His
words “This is My body” and “This is My blood.” On the contrary, He
instituted His Supper as a way telling each and every person who comes
that His body was given, and His blood shed, for them, for the
remission of sins.
instituted the Lord's Supper?
2- What does Christ want us to
remember when we partake of His Supper?
3- What promise does the Lord’s Supper
4- Why is it important not to
contradict what Christ said?
5- What tells us that Christ’s words
(in the Lord’s Supper) have a deeper meaning?
6- In what sense do we actually
receive Christ's body and blood?
7- Why is John 6:35-63 not a reference
to the Lord's Supper?
8- How does Christ’s discourse at
Capernaum cast light on what He later said about His Supper?
9- Who are unworthy to partake of the
10- What does Christ tell each person
who comes to His Supper?